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Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World [Paperback]

Stephen O'Shea
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

21 Jun 2007
On the one hand the fall of the Christian Middle East at Yarmuk and the sack of Constantinople by the Ottomans, on the other the glorious multicultural societies of Cordoba and Palermo - these and other fragments of our collective memory come alive as part of a huge canvas in this fresh narrative history by a master popular historian.

Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; New Ed edition (21 Jun 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861975813
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861975812
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,028,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


If you read one book on the history of the Middle East conflict, this should be it. (Oxford Times)

marvellous accomplishment... provides a remarkable glimpse into the origins of the conflicts between Christians and Muslims as well as their once peaceful coexistence. (Publishers Weekly (US))

a rich chronicle of historical detail, military confrontation, and political machinations. In a sometimes lyrical and poetic voice, O'Shea tells a fascinating history (Library Journal (US))

Stephen O'Shea has a wonderful sense of place and of the survival of the past in the present. In this book he vividly evokes the interaction of Christianity and Islam over ten centuries and their struggle for pre-eminence in the Mediterranean world (Robert Irwin)

more than enough action in this entertaining book to hold your attention. (Catholic Herald)

admirable erudition and clarity, an authoritative overview of the period' (Independent)

imaginative and robust approach...O'Shea's own style is easy, fluent and engaging (Times Literary Supplement)

There is much to praise in O'Shea's book (BBC History Book of the Month)

O'Shea writes miraculously well...a kind of masterpiece, unlike any other book on the subject. (Andrew Wheatcroft Toronto Globe & Mail)

A glittering insight into hostile faiths. Every page carries a glittering freight of insight, detail and sometimes caustic observation...the author tells his story with an engaging blend of swagger and sensitivity. (Independent on Sunday)

A tour de force... 'Sea of Faith' is a beautiful, necessary book, punctuated with passages of dark, luminous, symbolic power. (Christian Science Monitor)

Hip historian tramps the battlefields around the Mediterranean to shed light on the great contention of Christian vs. Muslim in the Middle Ages. A vast wave of learning, every page carrying a glittering freight of insight, detail and caustic observation. (The Independent '50 Summer Reads')

His book offers a type of hope that is refreshing compared to his often cynical peers (Emel (Muslim lifestyle) Magazine interview)

About the Author

Stephen O'Shea, for many years a journalist in Paris and New York, contributed to a wide variety of publications on the arts and translated French feature films. The Friar of Carcassonne is his third book of medieval history. He currently lives with his two daughters in Providence, Rhode Island. stephenosheaonline.com

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seems superbly researched and written 16 Oct 2007
By calmly
I enjoy the flow of the writing. Just how O'Shea assembles so many facts I don't know. He provides a "you are there" feeling for the many battles. I am surprised so many details of those battles have survived a millennium. One learns to at least appreciate from this book the value in having adequate supplies of water during a battle. O'Shea apparently visited many of the locations he covers in this book including the battlefields to the extent the exact sites are known nowadays.

That "convivencia", an unusual level of cooperation between Muslims, Christians, and Jews was possible in places during much of the period O'Shea covers, is one good reminder of the value of studying history. One might not suspect given current relationships among these groups that such intellectual and cultural sharing was possible.

On the other hand, the barbarism during the warfare including the Crusades is a reminder of the violence associated with different cultures and religions. The description of Crusader's slaughter of so many defenseless man, women and children in the 1099 ransack of Jerusalem is shocking albeit briefly described. I'm reminded of the destruction of an entire Cather city by Crusaders that O'Shea describes in his earlier work "The Perfect Heresy".

Would O'Shea hope to earn enough from this book to sufficiently reward his major efforts? He must love what he is doing. Hopefully readers will support him in writing histories for a long time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sea of faith 24 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This give a unique spiritual and ethical interpretation of the spiritual values of both Islam & Christianity-as both
originated from Judaism-as all these great faiths-regard Abraham-as their spiritual founding father.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This book is a labor of love: you can feel the author's fascination with the subject, which he pursued with a passion that is rarely found in academia. The result is a highly readable, informative, and exciting history of the battle for the Meditarranean, between a succession of Christian and Moslem empires. If you want to know about the origins of Islam, the eclectic culture of southern Spain, the Crusades, or the rise and containment of the Ottoman Empire, this is the ideal place ot start.

The story revolves around the Mediterranean Sea, when the Roman empire has broken down with the exception of Byzantium in the East. There is an unforeseen development - the founding of a new monotheistic faith, the Islam of Mohammed - that releases extraordinary energy, both intellectual and empire-building. In spite of a serious schism (Sunni v. Shiite) and lack of political unity, the Moslem armies sweep across Northern Africa and into the heart of Western Europe in less than 2 centuries. Over the next 800 years, incessant war results that can be called east-west, but also civil insurrections of huge proportion. THere is a great flowering of civilization and learning, with many mythic figures from Saladin the Kurd to el Cid, a soldier of fortune in Spain. The author dissects these stories, seeking the truth and filling in the blanks with wonderful detail, eventually ending the story when the Atlantic begins to replace the Mediterranean as the world's center of commerce. The sweep is dazzling.

What is truly astounding is the density of the writer's style. He explains the competing religious doctrines, the mechanics of warfare in each age, and the political deals worked out to allow the various faiths at times to co-exist.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By Jonathan Rowe VINE VOICE
Without a doubt, this is a timely book. After a long but unquiet slumber, the old myths of religious conflict are being resurrected and the "clash of civilisations" (to use Samuel P. Huntingdon's ghastly and ill-omened phrase) are being trotted out by demagogues on both sides of the Atlantic. Time, then, for an informed and humane study of the shared history of Islam and Christianity. Fortunately, this book is both beautifully written and deeply perceptive, evoking sympathy and admiration for both sides in a story of sibling rivalry with more than its fair share of thuggish atrocity and ignorance. O'Shea's contention is that medieval Christianity and Islam represent a single civilisation - he unearths the delightful term "convivencia" to describe their mutual living arrangements - and he traces the ebbs and flows of confessional politics across the Mediterranean up to the dawn of the modern era.

In the early chapters it is of course hard not to sympathise with the Muslims: cultured and sophisticated, riding a high tide of enthusiasm for a faith that has brought them both unity and prosperity, colliding noisily with the hotch-potch of barbarian fiefdoms and decayed Roman oligarchies pock-marking the shattered margins of the Middle Sea. If only those maladorous warlords would just settle down under the benign yoke of the Prophet and just get on with each other! As the centuries roll by, the Christians acquire their own ramshackle charm - part wild-eyed fanatic, part cumudgeonly Robin Hood - while various parts of the Caliphate implode under incompetent monarchs and the internal contradictions of a revolutionary faith mired to worldly power (a paradox shared by the Christian churches of this period).
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